"Marked" Chapter - 3ii

As the bright light flooded into the tent an icy gale followed, bitterly driving Harren out of his awkward sleep. An eye slowly squinted open, watching with a groan the canvas tent flap billowing in the strong wind. He tried to sit up in the hard wooden chair. He ached. His face ached from where he had been using the thick wooden desk as a rather unsatisfactory pillow; his back ached from his hunched position.

Disorientated from his uncomfortable – and no doubt brief – sleep, Harren offhandedly wondered at the time of day. If the sun was still out, Harren was probably being woken for the attack. It must be quite late. It was hard to guess inside the tough canvas walls of the tent: they were thick enough to block out the sun so that troops on a night attack could sleep during the day; they also helped to block out some of the sound from the rowdy camp. Harren quickly banished the thought from his mind as a wiry silhouette moved to block out a large portion of the light flooding through the open entrance.

“Sorry to disturb you Captain, but I have an urgent announcement from the Emperor.”

Gingerly, Harren stood and stretched his painful muscles. As he began walking into the heavy breeze, he took a quick glance back at Ylessa. Somehow, she was still fast asleep. That made him smile, as long as she was at peace, Harren would gladly fight an army by himself.

He stopped a few feet in front of the messenger, he was a young boy; it was common for children to be used in such a way around the camp because they were fast and had a lot of energy. Besides, all the soldiers were either busy or sleeping. Planting his hands on his hips, Harren ran his right hand through his mop of disarrayed hair as it jutted out at every angle. Although he was pleased that only he had been woken by the messenger, he couldn’t help be annoyed that the man failed to block out the icy gales. Seeing as he was still dressed, Harren ushered the man outside and sealed the tent shut behind him.

The boy shuffled, uncomfortable with waiting, until Harren gave him the order to speak. The boy relayed the message, as he would have memorised it when it was told to him.

“The Emperor Kara is holding an emergency meeting in the town hall for those ranked Captain or higher; your presence is required immediately.”

“Thank you, I shall attend immediately.” With a nod of confirmation the boy ran off until he was swept up by the bustling camp.

Harren returned to the tent, being plunged into shadow due to the lack of any lamplight. He had fallen asleep with the lamp still burning. Slowly it would have all been consumed. It was the last of the oil in the tent. Harren gave himself a mental rebuke for not asking the messenger for more.

Within minutes, Harren had changed into his light blue Karan shirt, the Karan emblem – a golden eagle – soaring on his chest. Over it, he strapped on his decorative armour, only used for formal occasions. It was ornate yet cumbersome – an old fashioned design used when the Karan Empire was but a small group of revolutionaries. The armour was a symbol that reminded Harren of the men that first overcame oppression. Without them, he may not be alive and definitely would not be here.

Draped across his shoulders and over the cold metal was a heavy cape of slightly darker colour. Again, the cape was but a symbol of olden times: times of great triumph. They were no longer worn due to their impracticality: it being so long that it swept the dust and mud from the floor. Should it ever catch the rain, the cape – already restricting movement – became about twice as heavy. Harren felt sorry for those that had stood up against the tyranny all those years a go. With an outfit like this, he wondered how the founders of the Empire that was today had even accomplished anything. He sent a silent prayer of thanks their way.

Under the cape, Harren hooked a decorative short sword to his belt. An elaborate sheath, its golden design clearly taking a lot of time to make, encased the blunt blade. It was beautiful.

The overall look was incredible. Harren liked it; he was proud to be able to wear the uniform: both regal and intimidating. Most of the soldiers found it hard to look away from such a sight; they simply stared in awe. Harren thought that if every soldier dressed in a similar manner, they wouldn’t need to worry about the difficulty that fighting would present – the enemy would simply run.

Much to his dismay, Harren noticed the sun still hanging in the eastern sky, having not yet ascended to the swirling blackness above. This meant that Harren had only had a couple of hours of sleep; for how badly he ached, he seriously doubted it was worth it. Harren tried to shake the groggy feeling that gripped to him tightly, dulling his senses as he walked into the weak sun. At least the slight warmth it gave provided a small break in between the powerful, icy gales. In spite of the fact that his suit of armour kept him comfortably warm as he marched towards the town, the heavy dissipation of his breath told him that it would not be long before his face started to go numb.

The camp was even more alive now; soldiers stared in both shock and admiration as Harren and various other high-ranking officers made their way through the bustle and towards the town hall. The deal between the Empire and the people of Karalla had been a simple one: supplies from the town would be given to help upkeep the army and help the soldiers remain healthy whilst the army provided protection to the otherwise defenceless town from the Zarian Empire.

Although that was the original deal in its simplest form, both sides benefited in other ways: when on leave, the soldiers often spent their free time in the peaceful town. It provided them with a nice escape from the war whilst still knowing that they could be ready to help at any moment – should the need arise. Karalla too, benefited from the soldiers using the town when on leave because the soldiers helped businesses profit in otherwise very hard times. The situation was welcomed heartily by most – the town had come alive since the war had begun.

The town hall had been identified as a suitable meeting place for the more important people in the army on arrival for more than one reason: not only was the town hall right in the centre of Karalla, but also, it was the biggest building in the town; its grandeur was unparalleled when compared to the other, far more simple houses.

Although the town completely contrasted the immense city – Gardeth – in which he had grown up, there was something about it that… just felt more welcoming. As the sun shone its rays across the dusty ground, every stone in the imperfect streets cast a long shadow; a fountain sparkled in the early light as stray droplets spattered onto the smooth marble bench encasing it. Karalla was not just peaceful; it was beautiful – especially when compared to the dull, grey forest that was his homeland. He hadn’t seen the great Gardeth since the war began last summer and, without regret, Harren could say that he did not miss the overcrowded buzz on the dirty streets. To him, Karalla and its lush fields were his new home: the forests, golden leaves tumbling across the snug ground in the autumn breeze not so long a go, surrounding the secluded settlement… they were Harren’s sanctuary. There, he felt that he could hide away from all the hatred brewing in this lost world – Gardeth could never provide such protection.

The End

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